Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It goes with the Territory

I am an Anglican/I am ACC/I never falter/While setting up altar/I am Catholic, apostolic and free/Not a Presby/not United/not a Baptist white with foam/I am an Anglican/Via Media boom boom.
Those are the words to a church camp song and a way to introduce my topic - territories. I never thought of characters' territories as being so important in defining self-concept and how that self-concept affects their behaviour throughout the book. Here I was trying to decide how wide the shoulders and how blue the eyes and not realizing this handsome dog had self-concept issues I had to consider. It is his territory vs her territory and how they defend them or give them up that gives the conflict to the story.
I am an Anglican is part of my self-concep in many ways - including the Anglican insistence on not trying to convert anybody to anything and remaining respectfully quiet...via media in fact (middle of the road). I am an Anglican in that, like all Anglicans, I have never sat in a front pew. You can tell an Anglican church easily. Everyone sits at the back. Further more, we tend to always sit on the same side, same pew even when we move to a church in another town. That is our territory. I once sat in an elderly woman's spot when I joined a church in a town I had just moved to, and was quietly informed that she had sat in that spot for 67 years. Suddenly, physically I felt very uncomfortable. That particular spot, in any Anglican church I had ever attended, had always been my territory. To make it worse, she graciously insisted I sit there, creating a new territory for herself. A section of wooden bench created emotional turmoils - conflict - for both of us. In a threatening situation - even one as trivial as this one, fight or flight is our reaction.
We all set territories. Wasn't there a specific desk you preferred in a classroom? Do you sit in the same general area at every writers' group meeting? At a concert or lecture, do you always sit on a particular side, usually a set distance from the stage? When you leave your seat, do you leave your coat or a notebook on 'your seat'? You have set up your territory and that has a lot to do with your self-concept. If someone invades your territory, internal or external, you will have conflict in order to feel safe and not threatened. You will flee or fight.
(If your character sits behind the door with a bag over their head, your plot is in trouble!)
Vanessa Grant goes into detail about the importance of territory and self-concept and since I had never considered it, I am going to tell you a bit of what she has to say but in my words.
Your characters may have the same goal but different ways of getting there - there is their conflict. For example: Two doctors want to save a patient from depression. One thinks therapy and the other thinks medication. This is the conflict that leads to the plot.
In a book I am reading, the hero doesn't trust the heroine but lusts after her. She is in such an emotional turmoil over threats to her children she can't tell if she loves him or lusts after him, but she does trust him implicitly.
She has areas of territory she must defend in order to defend her self-concept. She must see herself as a good mother and as one strong enough to protect her children. It is also important to her that he sees her as desirable and lovable at a time when she doesn't feel lovable or desirable but needs that self-assurance desperately.
He must have her trust in order to defend his self-concept as a strong defender of the children. He is struggling with the fact he is falling in love with her but his self-concept is suffering from a past experience.
I have a sneaking suspicion they are going to marry in the end, but in the meantime, they have some territories to sort out and that is what is making it a good read.
Do you have territories? Will your self-concept make you flee or fight? Do you work out your characters' territories to help you clarify your characters? Have you ever sat in the front pew???
p.s. I have written the non-fiction contest story nine different ways (POVs) and I'm still not satisfied naturally. Thanks again to everyone who took time to give me their advice.


Ban said...

I'm a Baptist white with foam :D yes, I have territories but the physical ones matter little to me, unless it's the comfy chair at home I use while on my laptop. I've sat in the front pew, the back and all those in between. I pick chairs at events based upon how I feel at that moment, maybe I want to sit alone or with the bubbly crowd of women. Maybe closer so I can really pay attention to the speaker ... you get the idea. Once I find my territory though - yeah, I'm gonna put my coat down on it.
Love how this translates to character views of themselves - very, very interesting ! It's not hard to see now that my characters have very distinct territories also. Want to examine them a bit now and discover their boundaries -Great topic !

Jana Richards said...

Hi Connie,
Interesting subject and one I can certainly relate to personally. I am a creature of habit when it comes to territory and "space". I usually sit in the same spot in a class. I hate anyone invading my territory. For instance, I hate when someone stands too close behind in a line up, or takes the space right next to me in an exercise class when the rest of the gym is empty. Arrrgh!

I know that people react strongly to having their territory invaded, not just from my own reactions but from observations of others as well. I once took a class where there were about ten of us seated at tables set up in a U shape. One woman decided that she would sit in every seat over the course of the class. Another woman was so upset I thought they going to come to blows.

I don't know why this hasn't occurred to me when creating characters since it's such a strong instinct. You've given me something else to think about.


Silver James said...

Lots of food for thought here, Connie! Me? I was raised Episcopalian (religion in it's mildest form - the American version of Anglican.)

My characters always seem to have issues with territory. Some want to share, others want to lock out the world. Sometimes, they manage to exist in the same space at the same time and create their HEA. Just like us flesh-and-blood creations, our fictional creations just want to put their coat down and find their spot.

Helena said...

This is a topic to set me thinking. Great way to start a Tuesday, Connie.

Territory is a good way to describe how much one wishes to share their life with others. So a very private person has a clearly defined territory with boundaries others shouldn't try to cross. The more relaxed the boundaries become, the less it matters which chair you sit in.

I have a character who has not been able to come to terms with certain events in her past. She even refers (within her own thoughts) to a locked area, a wall behind which she will not go, a place where she locks up her memories where they won't bother her. So, of course, until she is able to clear out that forbidden territory, she really can't move on with her life. Meeting someone again from that period of her past blows it all apart.

When I was younger, I always made sure I sat roughly in the middle of a public meeting room, classroom, or church, but it had nothing to do with territory. It was so I could see the focal point at the front without turning my head too much, which strained my neck giving me a headache (one side was worse than the other, but now I can't remember which one, doesn't bother me anymore).

Sorry, that last bit was irrelevant to the discussion.

Thanks for introducing the concept of territory, Connie.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Excellent post, Connie. I've always attended the closest evangelical church whether it's been apostolic or pentecostal. At one summer revival mtg, I didn't see foaming at the mouth but the nearest thing to it - a middle-aged man jumping up and down in a frenzy when the Holy Spirit filled him. I was 12 at the time and it had a profound effect on me.

I always sit in the last pew. Of course, this has created problems because we've moved so many times and yes, I guess we've marauded into other parishioners territory by doing so. At one church it was a matter of who got there first. LOL. We kept going earlier and ealier.

It's so frustrating when we go anywhere with hubby b/c the kids and I always park to the right of the store doors so we know where the van is. Hubby always goes to the left. Then he asks us where he parked the van. *sigh

I think I've subconsciously used territories in my writing b/c my H/h do the same as me. Sit in the same pews, park in the same place, ask for the booth in the corner, etc.

But now I'll add it to my checklist to ensure their territories are consistent with their character. Thanks, Connie.

Suse said...

Thank you, Connie, for this post. I hadn't thought about territories for my characters before. I think I might have done some of that subconsciously, but I think this is an excellent way to add to the development of our characters, so I will think about it consciously now.

I am a creature of habit, and staking out my territory almost always is directly related to my comfort level in any particular situation.

If I am taking a class, I will probably sit near (not at) the front so that I don't have to look over people's heads to see what's going on at the board. At church, we probably go the same side as long as there are seats available - surprisingly this is the opposite side that my parents and siblings sat on growing up. In a parking lot, I will park as far away as I can (depending on the weather) so that I can get more steps in - my husband will park as close as is humanly possible.

On our recent trip to France, a lady from Georgia tried to insist on everyone changing seats each day because that's what they'd done on every other tour she'd been on. However, my new friend, Molly, needed to sit right at the front all the time because she got motion sickness. Another new friend, Tracy, and I always tried to sit near the back, because we both had scent allergies so we tried to stay away from a couple of ladies who wore strong perfume. Two gals from Chicago insisted staying at the very back of the bus. I thought one of them would come to blows with the Georgia lady. It would have been an interesting cat fight to see. Something like this would definitely add conflict to a story.

Thank you for introducing this. It's just one more way to create conflict with believable characters.

Karyn Good said...

I'm Lutheran, we don't like to sit close to the front either. I definitely have my comfort zones. I park in relatively the same area every time at the mall, sit in the same general area in the threater, and take up space in the same pew.

In my current wip, Common Ground, I'd say Lily is feeling very territorial and is in full fight mode. Chase,too. They both want the same thing, they just can't agree on how to get there.

Great topic today, Connie.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Excellent topic, Connie. This isn't something I've thought too much about, but I think it works its way into a character in general. What I could benefit from now, though, is consciously figuring out character territory, so they don't mimic my own priorities. Hubby and I wound up pretty similar, we both like to have our back to a wall and a good view of a room, so we have to figure out who gets what when we go to restaurants. I also like to have a corner so I can work without getting crept up on (surprise waiters starting me out of writing). The same applies for my wip's protags, although for more practical reasons of not getting ambushed and/or killed.

connie said...

You sat in a front pew??!!
I am glad you can see the distinct territories of your characters and this gives you a new view of them.
I'm afraid my characters need that depth
There is always something new to make you look again at your manuscript. Now I kow why the Unfinished Symphony was unfinished

connie said...

I know what you mean about invaded space. I had a teacher once who came right up toe to toe. It drove me crazy.
Protecting one's space is a very strong instinct. I wonder how much it would upset a reader to have one character go toe to toe with another?

connie said...

Silver James - I have attended Epicopalian churches in the South. Awfully darn close to being the same. Do you have a revised prayer book in modern language? I still thee and thou all over the place anyway. Give me an Almighty and merciful Father... anyday over Father I have sinned..
I hadn't really thought about characters putting their coats down.

connie said...

Your character's bouts with territory sound really interesting. I hadn't thought about territories in one's mind. Interesting thought

connie said...

Anita - my husband is a fanatic about territory around the house. I wouldn't DARE put anything down on his side of the bathroom counter and he has never ever sat in my favourite chair. (the dog has no such qualms)I always know where he has parked because it is the very last place I would park.
Those little extras like the corner table really add to the story. Makes me more comfortable with the character.I am going to reread the book I mentioned in this post and see how the author uses territory and self- concepts. One is very obvious: his secret is that he went to war and his wife and child died while he wasn't there to protect them. When it looks like happening again with the second wife, he about comes out of his skin. He also shows marked jealousy when anyone walks up to talk to her. However, they are so darn busy having sex here, there and everywhere that his jealousy doesn't have time to take effect.

connie said...

Hi Suse,
don't you just love the organizers! Georgia has them too.
We took a bus trip from Germany to Paris. I accidently spilled coffee on the lady behind me. The bus driver made me sit on the step next to him so he could 'talk to me'. I have never been so mortified. It was the last time he spoke English too. My German wasn't up to his so we never quite knew where we were after that. So, being given a territory can be hard too I found. I'll have to keep it in mind.
A cat fight! I'll have to remember that idea although fighting for the back seat on a side saddle or a Medieval destrier may be hard to work in...

connie said...

I used to go to the Lutheran church when I stayed with Aunt Ora. She always sat six from the front on the left side.
I'd like to read about Lily and see how she handles territory

connie said...

I like my back to the wall too and I am very uncomfortable if I have to sit close to a door but with my back to it. I read somewhere that men take the bed (in a hotel) that is nearest the door. K does that. It is supposed to be a left over instinct from the cave days. Makes sense.
My characters don't have territories anything like mine. Maybe it is my way of having a different persona in a comfort zone.
Our son is on a special police assignment for now. I sat in a hospital cafe with him and watched him watch everybody. There was a good chance he would meet some of his 'characters' in that particular hospital. He knew every exit and every wall, cabinet etc that could hide someone from his sight. When I think about it, it is as though he created a territory for them.
It was eerie but also one more tidbit for a future plot

Suse said...

Hi Connie,

I just had to jump back in and say that my husband doesnt usually take the side of the bed closest to the door in a hotel. That side is usually closest to the bathroom, and guess who always has to get up in the middle of the night.

connie said...

I know who! I just have to get up and stagger on by him by the light of the silvery smoke detector.